I ORIGINS (2014)
Running Time: 113 mins. Rating: x Stars/5 Stars
MPAA Rating: R
Director: Mike Cahill
Distributor: Fox Searchlight
Cast: Michael Pitt, Brit Marling, Astrid Berges-Frisbey, Steven Yuen, Archie Panjabi, Kashish, Cara Seymour, William Mapother, Crystal Anne Dickinson, Venida Evans, Ako, Rhonda Ayers
Everybody’s fingerprints are unique. No two people have the same ones. We know this because in the movies, detectives can flash thousands of fingerprints across the screen and, despite the vast numbers are able to pinpoint which ones match the model. In other words, nobody has yet found two living people with the same prints. What would you think, though, if you discovered that a guy has the same fingerprints as someone who recently died and whose prints had been on file? I, for one, would suspect there’s some kind of soul brother impact there, or even more far out, that this living person is the reincarnation of the departed one. That’s a major motif in Mike Cahill’s I ORIGINS, which might more accurately be called “Eye Origins,” because a biologist, determined to disprove the theory of Intelligent Design, that the eye had been perfectly formed since the beginning and not evolved via a succession of 12 steps, is working to discover those very 12 steps. But while that is his goal at first, he comes to realize something more dramatic, and that insight, a coup de theatre if you will, has the most resonance for the movie audience.
In his sophomore film, writer-director Mike Cahill proves his mettle at unfolding sci-fi themes as he did with ANOTHER EARTH, which posits that there is a second Earth within our own solar system. Again featuring Brit Marling, Cahill puts Dr. Ian Gray (Michael Pitt) front-and-center with Marling as Karen, his lab assistant. As the film opens, Ian and Sofi (Astrid Berges-Frisbey) meet cute at a Halloween party, Sofi dragging her new find to the bathroom for sex. (Later Ian asks Sofi why she “slept” with him that night, giving that tired euphemism as new meaning: sex on a toilet seat.) When Ian later meets Sofi on a New York train, he recognizes her by her green eyes, which stood out from the full facial mask that she wore at the party.
Two women are now in Ian’s life: the intellectual Karen who discovers a way to plant eyes on unseeing lab worms, and the emotional, but rather empty-headed Sofi. Emotions win out: Ian and Sofi engage in regular lovemaking, but when Sofi has an accident, Ian is devastated. Later marrying his lab partner, and with a best-selling book, The Complete Eye, on the shelves, Ian continues to have eyes for the departed Sofi. When the couple’s first son leads Ian to India to search out more mysteries of the iris, the Big Themes are pronounced, but director Cahill soft-pedals the jargon and trusts the audience to retain an interest in Ian’s scientific work, particularly since Ian may be about to shed his atheistic belief in cold, hard facts to embrace a more spiritual outlook.
Kashish, a girl in India who seems about eight years old, turns in a soulful performance as the girl who matches the color and shape of Sofi’s eyes, while Archie Panjabi (Kalinda on tv’s “The Good Wife”) introduces Ian to the girl, shedding the American accent and cynicism we’re familiar with from that program and projecting her ethnically Indian character. There are plot holes such as you’d find in most imaginative tales; for example, in the Indian hotel, why would Ian walk up the stairs and take the elevator down?
I ORIGINS requires patience, that singular virtue that is praised by all spiritual masters, as the complex plot points will unravel successfully by the picture’s final, abrupt conclusion. Michael Pitt does a credible job portraying a scientist who ultimately shows his spiritual side, a likable actor who sails through this almost two-hour sci-fi journey as a convincing lead. Look for more intellectually and emotionally challenging works by this writer-director in the years to come.
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